Review: American Evil (15) / Directed by: Georgina Lightning / Screenplay by: Georgina Lightning, Christine K. Walker / Starring: Sarah Agnew, Jeri Arredondo, Noah Kol Balfour, Bradley Cooper / Release Date: Out Now
Make no mistake, what Camp Hell was to Christians, American Evil is to the plight of Native Americans. In the same manner that Camp Hell used Jesse Eisenberg’s cameo to sell the film, American Evil uses Bradley Cooper as marketing fodder despite him being a non-entity in the movie.
American Evil may well be the most fatally unfocussed film I have seen in a long, long time. It starts off with some dodgy-looking black magic performed by some red Indians, which is revealed to be a nightmare belonging to a woman living on a Native American reservation. The woman has been haunted by dreams and visions for some time, but they have been brought to a head by the potential demolition of an abandoned boarding school on the land. Things get worse and worse, much to the worry of her sheriff boyfriend. When the lady is committed, the atrocities committed by the Catholic Church against the natives and her family’s complicity in the way the tribes were mistreated are revealed.
For about five minutes it seems like American Evil is going to be the Native American equivalent of The Orphanage. The potential was certainly there, but writer and director Georgina Lightning and her wealthy Native American tribe, who bankrolled the production, are too concerned with highlighting their people’s tragic history. As a result we are introduced to a whole raft of characters as if this were the pilot for a Native American equivalent of Northern Exposure. Bradley Cooper is the geologist brought to town for no discernible reason other than to clash with the corruption that underpins the proposed new building project. We are also introduced to the local mayor, the Native American running for office, the Native American radio DJ and the local catholic priest. None of these characters have much of an impact on the central narrative, which actually had the potential to be a haunting story that sadly we don’t get.
All of the performances are bad. Usually reliable supporting players like Adam Beach, Wes Studi and Chris Mulkey deliver stiff dialogue in a wonky manner as if they are in a daytime soap. Most of their plot lines go nowhere and are mere ciphers for delivering the central message of the movie. There are some shocking events and the history of how America came to be is certainly sad, with a whole nation more or less wiped out and then given small pieces of land on which to live. However, the film purports to be based on true events, even providing some figures about the high suicide rate amongst the community at the end, but this is just information you can get from Wikipedia. The producers forget that a film also has to have structure, dramatic tension and, most importantly, has to be entertaining.
It’s not quite as bad as Camp Hell, but American Evil is not a good film. It’s flat, lifeless, dull and has almost nothing to recommend it.